Miss Theodora Bosanquet

Theodora about 1898, aged 18 [3]
Theodora Bosanquet, M.B.E., 52, (1880-1961) was a secretary, writer and reviewer, Henry James’s amanuensis – his “Remington priestess” – Literary Editor of Time and Tide, and from 1933 the partner of Lady Rhondda. After working for the Ministry of Food (for which she was awarded her M.B.E), from 1920 to 1935 Theodora was Executive Secretary of the International Federation of University Women and was on the Board of Time and Tide from 1943 to 1958. She has been fictionalised in three 21st century novels.  [1] [2] 


On this table of four seating could have been almost anything and they probably all knew each other well. The main decision would be whether Tess Dillon and her mother would be seated together or not. Tess the younger is a lifelong friend of Theodora. It doesn’t really matter.


For someone who was about to spend the next few years living with the guest of honour, this dinner may have been rather important personally. She also may have been thinking how her writing career would progress from hereon.


Theodora with her parents, c1887

Theodora Bosanquet was born on 3rd October 1880, at Sandown-Shanklin on the Isle of Wight, daughter of Gertrude Mary Fox (1854 – 1900, herself a descendant of the Darwin family) and her husband, curate Frederick Charles Tindal Bosanquet (1847 – 1928, a Huguenot descendant). Brought up on the Isle of Wight and then at Lyme Regis, Theodora then attended Cheltenham Ladies College, (1896-1898) before gaining her B.Sc. at University College, London, studying biology, geology and physics.

Theodora then gained the training and position that would shape her life by enrolling in the Secretarial Bureau of Miss Mary Petherbridge (52A Conduit Street, London), where she learned shorthand and secretarial work and later was hired by Henry James:

As Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia[4] advertised:

“One well-known lady indexer, Miss Mary Petherbridge, of the Secretarial Bureau, 52A, Conduit Street, London W., takes pupils and trains them in indexing and in secretarial work, the fee for the combined course being £75. Another lady indexer, Miss Bailey, of 12, Little College Street, Westminster, also gives the necessary training, and there are several others with whom would-be pupils can get into communication by consulting one of the societies established to assist the employment of gentlewomen, such as the Central Bureau for the Employment of Women, 5, Princes Street, Cavendish Square, London, W.; the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women, Berners Street, London, W., etc.”

Thus in 1907, at 27, Theodora became the “amanuensis” of the novelist Henry James (1907 – 1916), typing his dictation – his “Remington priestess” – and working for him, for 25 shillings per week, for most of the rest of his life, to 1916. In 1911 she also listed her occupation as indexer of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Henry James was living in Charles Lamb’s House in Rye, Sussex: Theodora moved to the seaside town where she lived with Mrs. Holland (Marigold Cottage, Mermaid Street), near James’ Lamb House, and made friends with Nellie Bradley, the daughter of travel writer Arthur Granville Bradley, a travelling friend of Henry James who lived in the Red Cottage in Rye; other friends were Rose Macaulay, Clara Smith (Table 19, later with Time and Tide, proof reader of Lady Rhondda’s autobiography, and with whom Theodora  wrote the epistolatory  novel Spectators in 1916), and Naomi Royde-Smith. With some of them she shared interest in the occult, for spiritualistic meetings and supernatural phenomena (as well as mesmerism). She attended with Henry James and his niece a lecture on women’s rights in Rye and was no doubt developing her feminism at this time. [5] [6] Spectators was published shortly after the death of Henry James: see more on the page for Clara Smith, who she probably first met when they were both at Cheltenham Ladies’ College, both also being awarded their B.Sc. for the University of London.

henry-james-at-work.pngIn 1924 Leonard and Virginia Woolf published her Hogarth Essay, Henry James at Work which perhaps remains the most referenced of all her works. After Henry James’ death she declined an offer to work for Edith Wharton in Paris (she had met her with Henry James) and worked for Lady Rhondda’s father’s Ministry of Food, being awarded an M.B.E. in 1919.

From 1920 to 1935 Theodora was Executive Secretary of the International Federation of University Women – Winifred Cullis, was President of the Federation. This role took her travelling to, inter alia, the US, France, Greece and Palestine. From 1927 she was reviewing regularly for Time and Tide. Her 1927 study of Harriet Martineau appeared with advance extracts in Time and Tide. Like many others at the dinner – Josephine Collier, Winifred Cullis,  Myra Curtis, the Hon. Mrs. Franklin, Cicely Hamilton, Laura Wallis Mills, Hélène Reynard, and Lady Rhondda, she was a member of the London and National Society for Women’s Service.  Also members of the latter Society were The Lady Camrose (not at the dinner but wife of dinner speaker Lord Camrose), possibly the Mrs. Crosfield, and Mrs. G.F Watts of Table 23.


The 1933 dinner took place just a month before Lady Rhondda and Theodora took the first of two cruises together.  Theodora became Lady Rhondda’s partner that year (and for the rest of Lady Rhondda’s life) and became Literary Editor of Time and Tide two years later in 1935 (shortly after the brief tenure of Richard Ellis-Roberts). Theodora was on the Board of Time and Tide from 1943 to 1958.[7] [8] The death of Lady Rhondda in 1958 seems to have left her rather stranded, and with little inherited from Lady Rhondda, she left their house Churt Halewell for Crosby Hall, Chelsea. She died there on 1st June 1961, probate of £18,985 put the hands of fellow table guest, Tessa Joseph Dillon.[9] [10] Theodora herself has been fictionalised in three 21st C novels: Michiel Heyns’s The Typewriter’s Tale (2005), Cynthia Ozick’s “Dictation” (2008) and David Lodge’s Author, Author (2004).


[1] Theodora Bosanquet, Hutchinson’s Woman’s Who’s Who 1934, Hutchinson & Co. London.

[2] Angela V. John (2013), Turning the Tide, Cardigan, Parthian, p 481 and also see p474

[3] BookForum.com accessed 16.9.2019

[4] Chest of Books website accessed 12.2.2019

[5] Translation from an excellent German website, Theodora Bosanquet, in Women Writers Scientists and Politicians 

[6] Lamb House, Rye, National Trust

[7] Translation from an excellent German website, Theodora Bosanquet, in Women Writers Scientists and Politicians https://www.schreibfrauen.at/theodora-bosanquet/

[8] Angela V. John (2013), Turning the Tide, Cardigan, Parthian, p479

[9] Lyall H. Powers’ introduction to Henry James at Work, Theodora Bosanquet, with excerpts from her Diary and an account of her professional career.

[10] Bill Greenwell blog: New Statesman Competitions and New Statesman satirical poems: a history : The Judges: Theodora Bosanquet– accessed 12.2.2018

Can you tell us more?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s